Friday, November 28, 2014

People ate mammoth; Dogs got reindeer

Artist's depiction of cave painting of primitive hunt (stock image).
Credit: © Nomad_Soul / Fotolia

Biogeologists have shown how Gravettian people shared their food 30,000 years ago.

Předmostí I is an exceptional prehistoric site located near Brno in the Czech Republic. Around 30,000 years ago it was inhabited by people of the pan-European Gravettian culture, who used the bones of more than 1000 mammoths to build their settlement and to ivory sculptures. Did prehistoric people collect this precious raw material from carcasses -- easy to spot on the big cold steppe -- or were they the direct result of hunting for food? This year-round settlement also yielded a large number of canids remains, some of them with characteristics of Palaeolithic dogs. Were these animals used to help hunt mammoths?

To answer these two questions, Tübingen researcher Hervé Bocherens and his international team carried out an analysis of carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes in human and animal fossil bones from the site. Working with researchers from Brno and Brussels, the researchers were able to test whether the Gravettian people of Předmostí ate mammoth meat and how the "palaeolithic dogs" fit into this subsistence picture.

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Sword’s Secrets Revealed

The discovery of an Anglo-Saxon sword this summer was cause for great excitement at the Barrow Clumpexcavation. We were keen to learn as much as possible about this 6th-century weapon, although the degree of corrosion on the sword and the fact that it was contained within the remains of its wood and leather scabbard meant that we would need to use an x-ray machine to do so. 

Being 85 cm in length, the sword was too large for our in-house x-ray facilities here at Wessex Archaeology, so the Army, through Captain Doe and Sergeant Potts, kindly offered to undertake the work using equipment based at a Field Hospital Unit in Aldershot. Transportation of the sword was closely supervised by our Conservator, Lynn Wootten, and the Project Manager for Barrow Clump, Phil Andrews. 

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Thursday, November 27, 2014


In September 2014, archaeologists from the Danish Castle Centre and Aarhus University announced the discovery of a Viking fortress in a field belonging to Vallø Manor, located west of Køge on the east coast of Sealand. This was the first discovery of its kind in Denmark in over 60 years. Since then, archaeologists have been waiting impatiently for the results of the dating of the fortress. Now the first results are available, and they will be presented at a seminar at Aarhus University on 18 November.

“When the discovery was published back in September, we were certain that we had found a Viking ring fortress, but since then there have been intense discussions online and amongst archaeologists about whether we were right. Now we know without doubt that we have found a fortress from the 10th century,” says archaeologist Nanna Holm, curator of the Danish Castle Centre.

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X-rays reveal secrets of Anglo-Saxon sword

Archaeologists have used an army field hospital’s x-ray machine to examine a corroded steel sword, confirming the pattern of the weapon alongside a spearhead and shield core found at a burial site on Salisbury Plain. 

Archaeologists have enlisted the help of the army to x-ray a sword found in Salisbury  during the summer [Credit: © Wessex Archaeology] 

The 85 centimetre blade was found with the grave goods at Barrow Clump, a 40-metre cemetery where 27 bodies – including the remains of Anglo-Saxon warriors – were discovered in 2012. 

“The sword was too large for our in-house x-ray facilities,” reflects Laura Joyner, of Wessex Archaeology, who says the sword caused “great excitement” at the excavation.

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Recreating clothes from Norway's Iron Age

A few years ago, the oldest known piece of clothing ever discovered in Norway, a tunic dating from the Iron Age, was found on a glacier in Breheimen. Now about to be reconstructed using Iron Age textile techniques, it is hoped the tunic will inspire Norwegian fashion designers. 

One of our aims in reconstructing the tunic is to learn more about how the textile  was made, how time-consuming it was to make, and how the wool was used,  explains Marianne Vedeler [Credit: Yngve Vogt] 


There was huge excitement among archaeologists when, three years ago, the oldest piece of clothing ever discovered in Norway – a woollen tunic – was found by an archaeological expedition to the Lendbreen glacier in Breheimen National Park. As a result of climate change, the Lendbreen glacier, just like other glaciers throughout Norway, has in the past few years been retreating. The melting of the glaciers is constantly revealing ancient artifacts.

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Graves of 'vampires' discovered in Poland were cholera victims

Archaeologists have discovered the graves of cholera victims which were treated like vampires to stop them rising from the grave and infecting the locals

Excavations of graves suggested the deaths of six occupants were likely to have been viewed with fear and suspicion Photo: PLOS One
When archaeologists discovered graves in Poland where the dead had been buried with sickles across their throats and rocks under their chins, they assumed the unfortunate victims were suspected vampires.
But a new study suggests they actually died of cholera, and villages were afraid they would rise from the dead, bringing the deadly disease back with them form the underworld.
In post-medieval northwestern Poland little was understood about how diseases spread and it was thought the first to die in deadly outbreaks would return from the dead as vampires.
So they were subjected to funerary rites involving traditional practices intended to prevent evil.
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Woolly mammoth skeleton fetches £189,000 at auction

Monty the woolly mammoth skeleton is displayed at Summers Place Auctions in Billingshurst, West Sussex. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

A rare woolly mammoth skeleton has been sold for £189,000 at auction.
The skeleton, named Monty, is one of the most complete of the species and was bought by a private UK buyer at the sale by Summers Place Auctions in West Sussex.
It stands 3.5 metres tall and is 5.5 metres long (11ft tall by 18ft long), suggesting it may have been a male that weighed up to six tonnes. The skeleton, which is 30,000 to 50,000 years old, was estimated to command a price of between £150,000 and £250,000. It had been in a private eastern European collection for years and was only assembled, including tusks, for the first time when it came to the auction house.
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Stone age axe found with wood handle

Archaeologists in Denmark have uncovered an incredibly rare find: a stone age axe held within its wooden handle.
The 5,500-year-old Neolithic axe was found during archaeological surveys ahead of a multi-billion euro tunnel project.
The axe seems to have been jammed into what was once the seabed, perhaps as part of a ritual offering.
The lack of oxygen in the clay ground helped preserve the wooden handle.
The find was made in Rodbyhavn on the Danish island of Lolland, which is to be connected to the German island of Fehmarn via the tunnel link.
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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Anglo Saxon graves found during excavation of Burwell Road, Exning

Twenty one skeletons of Anglo Saxon people have been found – just one foot under the ground – during an archaeological dig in Exning.
The skeletons were found on land at Burwell Road in Exning, alongside a spear, a glass bowl, gold plated brooches, a cloak pin, and a dagger, some of which is thought to have come from as early as 7AD.
The dig was carried out by Archaeological Solutions on behalf of Persimmon Homes, who have outline permission to build 120 homes on the site.
Andrew Peachey, post excavation manager for Archaeological Solutions, said: “The focus of the dig was of 20 Saxon graves. In those, we found 21 remains with one being a double burial.
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A peek inside a Viking piggybank: CT scans of treasure chest reveal hidden brooches, gold ingots and ivory beads

Derek McLennan found more than 100 objects in Dumfries in September
In addition to the pot, hoard includes jewellery, arm bands and silver ingots
The pot was investigated using a CT scanner at Borders General Hospital
It revealed silver broaches, gold ingots and ivory beads 
Location of the find isn't being revealed until excavations have taken place

The mystery surrounding the contents of a Viking pot has been solved after researchers carried out a CT scan on the ancient artefact.
Archaeologists had been unable to open the pot to see what was inside, but its weight suggested it was full of treasure.  
After undergoing a series of scans, the 1,200-year-old pot was found to contain up to at least five silver brooches and an ornate bead. 

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Vases in Pompeii Reveal Panic Before Eruption

French and Italian archaeologists digging out a pottery workshop in Pompeii have brought to light 10 raw clay vases, revealing a frozen-in-time picture of the exact moment panicked potters realized they were facing an impending catastrophe.
The vases were found sealed under a layer of ash and pumice from Mount Vesuvius' devastating eruption of 79 A.D. and it appears they were just ready to be fired.
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Climate change was not to blame for the collapse of the Bronze Age

Scientists will have to find alternative explanations for a huge population collapse in Europe at the end of the Bronze Age as researchers prove definitively that climate change - commonly assumed to be responsible - could not have been the culprit.

Archaeologists and environmental scientists from the University of Bradford, University of Leeds, University College Cork, Ireland (UCC), and Queen’s University Belfast have shown that the changes in climate that scientists believed to coincide with the fall in population in fact occurred at least two generations later.

Their results, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that human activity starts to decline after 900BC, and falls rapidly after 800BC, indicating a population collapse. But the climate records show that colder, wetter conditions didn’t occur until around two generations later.

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Were Neanderthals a sub-species of modern humans? New research says no

In an extensive, multi-institution study led by SUNY Downstate Medical Center, researchers have identified new evidence supporting the growing belief that Neanderthals were a distinct species separate from modern humans (Homo sapiens), and not a subspecies of modern humans.

The study looked at the entire nasal complex of Neanderthals and involved researchers with diverse academic backgrounds. Supported by funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, the research also indicates that the Neanderthal nasal complex was not adaptively inferior to that of modern humans, and that the Neanderthals' extinction was likely due to competition from modern humans and not an inability of the Neanderthal nose to process a colder and drier climate.

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Solent's Stone Age village 'washing away'

In 1999, a team of divers off the Isle of Wight came across a lobster busily digging out its burrow. To their surprise they found it was kicking out flints from the Stone Age. However, archaeologists now fear artefacts dating back more than 8,000 years are simply being "washed away". 

Diver recovering flint [Credit: Michael Pitts] 

Bouldnor Cliff is a submerged Stone Age settlement off the coast of Yarmouth which was covered in silt as great sheets of ice melted at the end of the last Ice Age. 

It is an important site because the muddy conditions have helped preserve organic materials from the distant past that do not normally survive on dry land. 

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Woolly mammoth could be cloned by South Korean scientists

Scientists are considering an attempt to ressurect the extinct woolly mammoth. But concerns have been raised about the ethics of such a project

The fierce debate over whether to clone a woolly mammoth has been reignited by a fresh attempt to bring the species back from the dead.
South Korean scientists believe the extinct 'Mammuthus' can be brought back to life using the DNA of an extremely well preserved mammoth found in the Siberian snow.
Insung Hwang, a geneticist at Sooam, the South Korean biotech company working on the project, said this week his team think it is an achievable goal, using the fresh blood samples they have recovered.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Magnificent Ancient Roman Silver Treasure Revealed

Accidentally discovered by a French farmer plowing his field near the village of Berthouville in rural Normandy in 1830, the spectacular hoard of gilt-silver statuettes and vessels known as the Berthouville Treasure was an ancient offering to the Gallo-Roman god Mercury. Following four years of meticulous conservation and research in the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Antiquities Conservation Department, the exhibition Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville, on view at the Getty Villa November 19, 2014, to August 17, 2015, will present this unique collection of ancient silver in its full splendor and offer new insights about ancient art, technology, religion, and cultural interaction.

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Rare pre-historic basket found in North Uist set for imminent excavation

A pre-historic woven reed basket found last week in North Uist is to be excavated by specialist archaeologists within the next few days.
The discovery, made by a local resident, has excited islanders and archaeologists for its rarity and excellent state of preservation.
It was found last week, exposed in sediment on a stretch of beach at Baile Siar after recent gales. Storms frequently expose the remains of ancient settlements in this area.
The basket, about half a metre in length, contains a handful of worked quartz stones, and a handful of diverse animal bones.
Local archaeologist Kate MacDonald of Uist Archaeology spoke of her excitement at the find.
She said: “It’s rare to find well-preserved organic material. It indicates that this basket must have been kept under water from the day that it was placed, or lost, there. Perhaps it was in a freshwater loch until it was covered over by encroaching beach sediment.
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5,000 year old footprints found in Denmark

Archaeologists working on the excavations for the Femern Bælt Tunnel have discovered several well-preserved footprints dating back to the Stone Age. 

The Stone Age impressions were during the excavation of the Femern Bælt tunnel  [Credit: Copenhagen Post] 

The prints were left by fishermen looking to safeguard their weirs (river barriers used for fishing) in a storm 5,000 years ago, announced Lolland-Falster Museum. 

"It is quite surreal to have found human footprints," said archaeologist Terje Stafseth in a press release. 

"We normally find historical clues in the form of human waste, but here we have found an entirely different clue and a first in Danish archaeology: a physical print left behind by a human."

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First Europeans 'weathered Ice Age'

The DNA comes from a man who lived in westernmost Russia some 36,000 years ago

The genetic ancestry of the earliest Europeans survived the ferocious Ice Age that took hold after the continent was initially settled by modern people.
That is the suggestion of a study of DNA from a male hunter who lived in western Russia 36,000 years ago.
His genome is not exactly like those of people who lived in Europe just after the ice sheets melted 10,000 years ago.
But the study suggests the earliest Europeans did contribute their genes to later populations.
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Scanning the Viking Hoard

The recently discovered Viking Hoard in Dumfries is arguably the most significant archaeological find in Scotland in the last 100 years. Watch as we get the first glimpses of a pot which has lain undisturbed for over 1,000 years, courtesy of a CT scanning machine.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Medieval oak timbers and hexagonal harbour discovered on west coast of Scotland

group of large oak timbers probably from a substantial, dismantled timber tower has been discovered buried in the coastal sand flats at Hunterston Sands, North Ayrshire (west Scotland). Initial tree ring (dendrochronological) dating suggests at least one of the timbers is around 800 years old, making this a very unusual find.

The site was discovered during the COALIE survey project; a collaborative research project between archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology Coastal & MarineRCAHMS and members of the local community who have detailed knowledge of the areas coast.
The timbers offer the potential to reveal much about the nature of the building they were part of, about the woodland they were cut from and about historic carpentry of a lost age. The strategic coastal position on the outer Firth of Clyde, during the reign ofAlexander II in the early 13th century AD, located on the estate of one of Scotland’s oldest families adds to the mystery and potential importance of the remains.

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Archaeologists find fertility genius, godheads and oil lamps in Roman Cumbria

A fertility genius in “amazing” condition, believed to be a local deity thousands of years ago, and the carved heads of male and female Roman gods have been found by archaeologists digging at a village in Cumbria.

The vague outline of an altar can be seen below the hand of the genius, unearthed in a 2,500-square metre area at Papcastle, where the 2009 floods gave excavators the first glimpses of Roman remains.

A cap worn by the male statue comes from thePhrygian kingdom in modern-day Turkey, meaning the figure could be Mithras, who was worshipped in the north between the 1st and 4th centuries AD. Archaeologists are also speculating that he could be the Greek god Attis, which would be likely to identify the female head asCybele – Phrygia's only known goddess.

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Sound Illusions: Eerie Echoes May Have Inspired Prehistoric Cave Art

Humankind has a long-standing affinity for art. As far back as 40,000 years ago, people were decorating cave walls in Indonesia and in Europe, often with panoramas of thundering herds of wildlife. Now, a growing line of research suggests that the "thundering" part of that description is no coincidence.

Echoes, reverberations and other then-inexplicable auditory illusions may have inspired mankind's earliest artists, according to Steven Waller, a researcher at Rock Art Acoustics in La Mesa, California. In a talk to be presented today (Oct. 28) in Indianapolis, Indiana, at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, Waller weaves together a theory of ancient art that focuses as much on sound as on sight.

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Submerged ancient Greek port revealed near Corinth

An ancient Greek port was revealed and recorded at the location of the Ancient Lechaion harbor, in the area of the modern Corinth Gulf, in the Peloponnese. 

This season's work showed that the ancient harbour ran some 911m along the Corinth  Gulf coastline and the entrance channel to the port lay on the harbour's eastern part  [Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture] 

The submerged ancient port covered a total area of 2,750 square meters. It ran 911 meters along the modern Corinth Gulf coastline and the entrance channel to the port lay on the harbor’s eastern part. The channel is 8.9 meters wide while a western and a middle mole were also found west of it. 

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